Exploring volcanoes

Williams/Ledger Elementary School students participate in a video teleconference with geologist Holly Weiss-Racine discussing why volcanoes get so hot. The expert advice was given as part of a Genius Hour passion project of second-grader Cullen Adams.

In an effort to provide students an opportunity to think outside the box, Williams/Ledger Elementary School features a designated time each day for Genius Hour passion project, where students can explore questions about almost anything on their minds.

Second-grader Cullen Adams wanted to know why volcanoes get so hot.

Geologist Holly Weiss-Racine has studied volcanoes in Alaska for several years. She joined Adams during a video conference to share her knowledge with the Genius Hour students.

“Did you know there is a difference between lava and magma, or that volcanoes are formed when magma from deep within the earth pushes up through the earth’s surface?” Weiss-Racine asked the class as she answered Adams’ question of why volcanoes get so hot.

She also provided kid-friendly analogies on why some lava flows peacefully down the volcano and why other lava explodes. “It all depends on the lava’s viscosity or its ability to flow. Some lava can be compared to water and other lava can be compared to peanut butter.”

She asked the students to imagine blowing through a straw placed in water and another straw in peanut butter. Students agreed the straw in water would create bubbles very easily, but not in a jar of peanut butter.

“The same holds true for lava. When the pressure pushes the magma through the cracks of the earth, the force exerted causes the lava to explode upward instead of flow peacefully down the volcano,” Weiss-Racine said.

Williams/Ledger will be hosting a “Genius Hour” night in the spring and Adams’ passion project will be on display along with others from the campus.

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